Backstage with Katie Donovan-Adekanmbi

This week is National Inclusion Week; a time designed to celebrate everyday inclusion in all its forms. This year’s theme is “Each One, Reach One” and is all about the opportunity that we all have to connect with someone else or another organisation, to help them understand the opportunity of inclusion. You can read more on Inclusion Week here.

In line with National Inclusion Week, we went backstage with Katie Donovan-Adekanmbi, a Bristolian Inclusion and Cohesion Specialist and founder of BCohC0. Through her company, Katie helps to create safe learning spaces in which people and organisations can learn to embed Diversity, Inclusion, Cohesion and Equality (DICE) in practice.

In this interview, Katie talks about what more organisations can do to support diversity and inclusion, what we as individuals can do to challenge unconscious bias, and much more.

Can you tell us a little bit about your role as an Inclusion and Cohesion Specialist?

I work with people and organisations to embed Diversity, Inclusion, Cohesion and Equality (DICE) in practice. Inclusion and Cohesion is the ‘How To’ and Diversity and Equality are the ‘Destination’.

DICE has never been more pressing with movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Times Up, He for She and Trans Lives Matter.

However, many businesses don’t know they have a problem or aren't sure how to solve it. That’s where The DICE Programme comes in. A learning and development programme for employees, including DICE strategy, DICE marketing and DICE employee resource group implementation. All designed to move organisations towards a more inclusive, cohesive and creative culture.

What inspired you to take this career path?

With a White British mother and a Black British father, Diversity has always been a part of my life. It has its challenges but ultimately makes for a richer existence.

Furthermore, during a 10-year career working to Build Sustainable Communities. Social Justice, Equalities and Cohesion were reoccurring themes, I found myself pulled into the cause.

Everyone deserves an even playing field, I feel compelled to help level that playing field. In a way that that puts people in all their wonderful difference at the center. And encourages creativity and innovation, underpinned by the values and business case for DICE.

The DICE program, bcohco.com


What are the biggest challenges in building a community that fully celebrates diversity and inclusion?

Time, it takes time to build trust and connection. Especially where DICE hasn’t been practiced with purpose before. We need brave leaders, not just those with given titles but Champions and Advocates with a vision of what a Cohesive team, group or community can achieve.

What more can be done to build bridges between our communities and strengthen the bonds between Bristolians from different walks of life?

I've coined the phrase ‘get uncomfortable’ a lot in recent months. Protected groups are often made to feel uncomfortable on a regular basis. A desire and willingness to have a respectful conversation about matters that make us feel vulnerable, to ask or be asked, is where seeds of trust can start to grow.

Privilege is choosing not to have the conversation because of one's delicate disposition. I always assume good intent when I'm asked where I'm from? Or told I look like I should have a tropical name. The discomfort when I say my names Katie and I was born here in Bristol. Is something we’ll both survive and get a little wiser for. However, while remaining mindful of good intent, being mindful of impact is equally important. It's not for protected groups to keep pushing to be heard, dominant groups need to create the safe spaces to learn.

What more can organisations be doing to support diversity and inclusion?

Statistics are always a good place to start. Is the organisation representative of the community it serves? Diversity includes but is not limited to Age, Ethnicity, Religion and Belief, Gender, Sexuality, Ability, Economic Status.

To put this into perspective, I often ask people to consider their personal network. Think about the 5 closest people to you, outside of your immediate family. How diverse is it? A personal audit of your social circle from time to time is revealing and insightful.

A similar principal should be applied to an organisation serving its community. A public call for transparency is turning the walls of organisations to glass. Customers can look right inside, consequently your internal culture is an ever more important part of the brand. By making DICE an integral part of your professional and personal strategy. You are making clear your position on these matters.

Implement employee resource groups, safe spaces where employees' voices can be heard. And provide directives to influence strategy and internal culture. Many employers make the mistake of putting a lot of pressure on one or two employees with a protected characteristic. On top of their job role and outside of their pay scale. This can perpetuate feeling ‘out’ if there's not buy in from the wider team, group, or community. This list is just the tip of the iceberg in considering what can be done to move towards an inclusive, cohesive and creative culture.

What more can individuals do to challenge unconscious bias?

Ask questions, the unconscious fast becomes the conscious with the right line of enquiry.  The DICE Programme offers a comprehensive toolbox in managing Bias.

What does it mean for you for Bristol to have an arena?

Bristol is a great place to live, even though I am consciously bias being born and raised here. I had the privilege of attending the Massive Attack gig last year which was amazing. It will mean less travel for me; I always leave Bristol to attend concerts and it will put Bristol on the map as a go-to city for big artists.

Stage set up for Massive Attack at Filton Airfield, 2019


What was the first gig you ever attended and what are your memories of the experience?

My first memorable concert was Kanye West, The College Dropout Tour at Hammersmith Apolo. The venue was packed, and the energy was intense with anticipation because he was late. The crowd started to get edgy when the electricity cut out, no joke, not part of the plan to elevate suspense.

Electricity gone, the venue in complete darkness, thousands of people buzzing go deadly silent. A couple of minutes later the lights came back on and a MC came on stage to apologise. He jested that ‘everyone should throw a pound on stage for the electricity meter’, to avoid it happening again.

And so people did... thousands of pound coins flying through the air, towards the stage. I remember thinking, whoever gets to clean this venue tomorrow will be happy with that Brucey bonus! The Concert that followed, when he finally arrived, was amazing!!!

And finally… what’s your all-time favorite song so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?

This was by far the most difficult question: Nat King Cole – Let there be Love

To listen to our Backstage Playlist on Spotify, click here. For exciting updates at YTL Arena Bristol, follow @ytlarenabristol on social media or sign up to our newsletter here.